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Lead Publicly and Empower Employees

May 5, 2014

CECP recently released a summary of its Board of Boards CEO Roundtable, which took place on February 24th with 50 global corporate CEOs. Designed to explore how leading companies can align business interests with societal investments, the forum focused on key steps that CEOs could take to eliminate the "corporate trust gap."

According to the report, while CEOs understand that trust in business is low, expectations are high. So, great potential exists to restore trust in business while tackling important societal issues.

Attendees at the Roundtable discussed four steps that CEOs could take to restore trust in business:

  • Lead Publicly. CEOs accepted responsibility for engaging employees and other audiences through more effective storytelling and a third of them said that the most effective step that they could take to help restore public trust in business is to speak publicly, in their own voices, on what their companies are doing.
  • Empower Employees. The participants spoke about the power of engaging the group that they know best – their employees – and over a third of them stated that encouragement from employees would matter most in a decision to expand a company's investment in the community.
  • Expand Collaboration. CEOs spoke of the importance of partnerships with other companies, communities and nonprofit organizations to pool resources, solutions and expertise with over a third of participants stating that the biggest obstacle their business faces in embracing more socially responsible business practices is the complexity of societal problems.
  • Make the Business Case. The participants understand the benefits of long-term investments, but they are pressured by the need for quarterly results. About 20 percent of participants said that the most significant obstacle that their business faces in embracing more socially responsible business practices is pressure from shareholders.

Interestingly, The Conference Board just released the results of its annual CEO Challenge survey and trust in business ranked 10th out of 10 challenges that CEOs face in 2014. The four highest ranked challenges were:

  • Human Capital. According to the survey, "human capital" is an enterprise-wide driver in addition to being a challenge globally. Having a talented, engaged and properly motivated workforce is critical to success in business, and it is closely linked to the other three top challenges.
  • Customer Relationships. Arguably, the most effective way of communicating a brand promise is through the front-line employees – those customer-facing employees – but many CEOs ranked strategies like providing incentives for front-line employees below other priorities like enhancing the quality of products and services as important ways to develop customer relationships.
  • Innovation. Ranked number three in 2013 and number one in 2012 overall, Innovation was ranked lower by CEOs in the United States and higher by CEOs in Asia. This was complemented by the selection of "entrepreneurial mind-set" as the number one future leadership attribute by leaders in Asia.
  • Operational Excellence. Ranked the number one challenge by CEOs in Latin America, operational excellence can be addressed by top ranking strategies like "seeking better alignment between strategy, objectives, and organizational capabilities" and "improving our organizational agility/flexibility" and "raising employee engagement to drive productivity."

The authors of The Conference Board report also found it surprising that trust in business ranked so low as a global CEO challenge, given all of the media attention related to the decline of people's trust in the way executives conduct their business, but they speculate that CEOs do not view trust in business as a stand-alone challenge, and they are perhaps working under the radar to build and maintain trust through their everyday operations and corporate practices.

However, CEO focus on developing employees and human capital was very consistent across these two reports. Human capital was ranked as the number one challenge in both Asia and Europe and number two in the United States and Latin America. CEOs in India also ranked it their most critical challenge, while their peers in China ranked in number two behind Innovation, just as they did last year. And, employee engagement continues to gather momentum in The Conference Board study as a human capital strategy. "Raise employee engagement," which was ranked third in 2013 (up from eighth in 2012) is now second on a global basis.

What do you think? Do these steps and challenges make sense to you? Let us know your comments by clicking here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues.

P.S. Did you know that CEOs consider integrity, leading change, managing complexity, entrepreneurial mindset, and retaining and developing talent as the most important leadership attributes and behaviors critical to future success?


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